Elena Kagan Named Dean of Harvard Law School

Professor of Law Elena Kagan will be the next Dean of Harvard Law School, President Lawrence H. Summers announced today.

A leading scholar of administrative law, Kagan has served on the faculties of both Harvard Law School and the University of Chicago Law School, in addition to holding senior legal and policy positions in the federal government. An alumna of Harvard Law School and a former law clerk to the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, Kagan will succeed Robert C. Clark, the Royall Professor of Law, who in November announced plans to conclude his service as dean on June 30, 2003, following fourteen years of distinguished service.

in 2003 was the first woman to be named Dean of the Law School by Harvard University's then-president Lawrence Summers, who now serves as director of the National Economic Council. She succeeded Robert C. Clark, who had served as dean for over a decade. The focus of her tenure was on improving student satisfaction. Efforts included constructing new facilities and reforming the first-year curriculum, as well as aesthetic changes and creature comforts, such as free morning coffee. She has been credited for employing a consensus-building leadership style, which surmounted the school's previous ideological discord.
In her capacity as dean, Kagan inherited a $400 million capital campaign, "Setting the Standard", in 2003. It ended in 2008 with a record breaking $476 million raised, 19% more than the original goal. Kagan made a number of prominent new hires, increasing the size of the faculty considerably. Her coups included hiring legal scholar Cass Sunstein away from the University of Chicago and Lawrence Lessig away from Stanford. She also broke a logjam on conservative hires by bringing in such scholars as Jack Goldsmith, who had been serving in the Bush administration.

After two more years as a Harvard professor, where she focused on administrative and constitutional law, Kagan was appointed law school dean in 2003 by Lawrence H. Summers, former Clinton Treasury secretary and Obama adviser who was then Harvard's president. "I thought she had a combination of commitment to students, leadership ability, and deep insight into law, not just for its own sake but as a tool for making the world work better," Summers said at the time.

Kagan is often credited with overhauling the image of Harvard Law School, from a factory that churns out talented lawyers to a place that cultivates some of the best legal minds in the country.

For decades, Harvard was viewed as a fractured campus that didn’t care much about its students. Kagan started with small changes to improve student life: a volleyball court, an ice-skating rink and free coffee. “As it turns out, you can buy more student happiness per dollar by giving people free coffee than anything else I’ve discovered,” she said.
More importantly, Kagan also greatly improved Harvard’s faculty, increasing its size from 80 to more than 100 in just a few years. She made a handful of extremely high-profile hires, such as conservative jurists John Manning and Jack Goldsmith, who worked in George W. Bush's Office of Legal Counsel and wrote a book, "The Terror Presidency," about post 9/11 legal issues such as torture, Guantanamo Bay and wiretapping. In February 2008, she hired Cass Sunstein, the longtime University of Chicago law professor who Kagan described as “the preeminent legal scholar of our time.” Sunstein now heads the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration.

During an April Fool’s issue, the law school newspaper ran a headline saying, “Dean Kagan hires every law professor in the country.” She hired more professors with public law backgrounds (going against Harvard’s image as a corporate lawyer factory), expanded the clinic program and increased financial aid. "Public service is a very personal subject for me," said Kagan. "I spent a good part of my legal career in government and I came to value very highly a certain spirit of public service and what people who possess that spirit can accomplish. Public service should be a vitally important part of every lawyer's life."